Sermon- 5.15.16

The coming of God’s Holy Spirit-May 15 sermon- Sometimes it’s hard to find the truth. There are so many ideas and thoughts and opinions in the world that it’s hard to sort out what’s valuable and what can be thrown away. We don’t want to make a quick decision and then find out that we’re wrong. We always want to act with discernment and integrity and not jump on the first bandwagon coming through town. As a church, we don’t only speak for what we believe as individuals. We also represent Jesus and the love he brought.
Jesus’ first words to the disciples in the gospel lesson are, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid, believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places-I go there to prepare a place for you. I will come and take you there, so we can be together. You know the way to the place where I am going because I am the way, the truth and the life. And soon, I will go to be with God the Father.
When Philip demands to see the Father, Jesus explains that they’ve already seen the Father because they’ve seen Jesus. They will do greater works than Jesus has done because the Father is sending in ground support for the disciples. Although Jesus is leaving, God’s sending the Holy Spirit, as their support and advocate in their ministry in Jesus’ name. If you think Jesus did amazing ministry, wait until the Spirit shows up-this is the spirit of truth, of peace who will live in you forever.
Now this sounds like an amazing and wonderful thing, but there’s something you need to know. The Spirit, like Jesus, can only be felt and experienced by people who believe that Jesus is the son of God.
Jesus explains this whole idea pretty clearly. This Spirit helper and advocate can only be seen and experienced by people who believe in God. The world can’t see it because they don’t believe. They can’t experience it because they don’t know it. It’s the same story we had at Jesus’ birth. If people didn’t believe in God, then the starry night when Jesus was born was another night with special planets shining brightly. They may have seen the light show, but they missed the point.
If they didn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God who could be raised from the dead, then Jesus appeared to be another victim on a Roman cross. Only the people who believed in Jesus knew that God raised him from the dead. They knew because he wasn’t in the tomb in which he was placed; God had raised him as Jesus had promised.
The resurrected Jesus first appeared to the friends and disciples to retell them the story, to fill in the blanks, to instill in them a greater peace and faith that would bring them to this miraculous, wonderful Pentecost day. Jesus gave them everything they needed. And today, their ministry began in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit blows them out of their house and into the streets with Jesus’ message that God loves and wants to save all people. Their experience is so powerful that they want the world to experience it, too.
What does a church look like or act like when it’s empowered by the Spirit? We had our own taste of it a few weeks ago at the anniversary service. The old and new, the past and future, the members and the saints all gathered for worship, using old and new language. The blend of structured liturgy and singing was an expression of the Spirit. I think that’s what the disciples are feeling today as the Spirit bursts into the room, fills them full and blows them out into the streets to preach and prophecy God’s old message in God’s new way.
Today’s story takes place on a big festival day in Jerusalem and everybody’s in town for the celebration. A few times a year, on high holy days, religious people come to the temple; you’ll find foreigners there all the time as they come to the Jerusalem marketplace. It’s like trying to drive on Highland Park Blvd on Christmas Eve. Everybody’s there, shopping for the holidays.
If you’ve ever seen someone preaching on the street corner, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what these disciples look like to the people in the street. These guys were from Galilee; they were fishermen. They weren’t rabbis or teachers or Pharisees or Sadducees. They had no standing at all in the temple, but here they were in everyday clothes preaching and prophesying, connecting Joel’s Old Testament scripture with the story of the risen Jesus Christ, son of God. They were speaking the language of every nation; every person knew what they said.
This is a pivotal moment for the disciple Peter, because in most of our stories of Jesus and the disciples, it’s Peter who jumps in without thinking about his words. Today as the disciples are preaching, some people ignore the message and claim the disciples are drunk. This is the growing moment, when the disciple Peter becomes the church father Peter. Standing with the others, he brushes off this comment with the command-Listen to what I say! These words were spoken by the prophet Joel and they are happening in your hearing today. God’s promise is coming true.

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“In the last days, I will pour my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophecy; your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. My spirit will be poured on both male and female slaves and they will prophecy.
I will show portents in the heavens and signs on the earth; blood and fire and smoky mist. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Wow! If these Galilean nobodies can preach like this in the spirit’s power, just imagine how that power would affect us. In a world that can’t stay quiet, imagine the power of words that can speak directly to the heart, life and experience of every person present.
Peter points the people in the direction that he wants them to go and then he shows them a vision of the future. He talks about the last days and explains that God’s presence and power are with God’s people. It’s their turn to use that power of prophecy in their own towns and villages, to take Peter’s spirit filled message home and to preach it because it’s deeply touched their own heart.
Times and circumstances change. Slaves no longer belong to masters; they’re slaves to God who claims and gives them the gift of prophecy. Barriers torn down, God’s message is taken to the streets.
Most important of all, the message of the spirit creates the birth of the church. The message goes out to all people, who carry it into the world. It’s the message of peace and the spirit of truth that comes from God-it shows that God is active and intervening in our world. It shows that God’s activity and God’s prophecy do not wait for us in the far off future. The Spirit comes to us in all times, all circumstances. It is the Spirit of truth and love of God. It is the gift of salvation for everyone who hears and comes to believe. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie

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Sermon- Sun. 3.13.16

Many of us are affected by our senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, to name a few) and the memories they bring back to us. I learned that smells can take me back in time. If I smell Walmart’s fresh bread baking and their rotisserie chickens roasting, I want to buy them. Food smells remind me of comfort foods. I’ve learned to shop later in the day.
There are other smells that connect to memory. I learned, while driving the Turnpike to Philadelphia, not to leave the car vent open between the Quakertown and Lansdale exits. There are miles and miles of chicken farms there and they spread the manure on the fields. After closing the car vent and wiping my eyes, I drove for fifteen miles until that smell disappeared.
Last week brought a new memory to me. Driving home from Ohio, I found dairy farms along Route 80, before you get to Williamsport. Those farmers spread cow manure on the fields. I grew up cleaning stables on a dairy farm, so it wasn’t so offensive. To me, it smelled like spring was here.
Our senses often connect with memories we’ve had in the past. From time to time, I smell the soft musk perfume my grandmother wore and it reminds me of Nanny, who died years ago. Or I’ll notice the mingled smell of dirt, sweat and fresh air-a reminder of my childhood, my own children’s past and the fact that spring is coming again.
Stories are always tied to our memories. Today, I want to take you away from thinking of the past and the present and take you into the vision of the future God shows to God’s people. We people of God, God’s creation, need to start living there on a permanent basis and we can do that when reading the words that God spoke through the prophet in the first lesson.
The prophets give us the beginning and middle of stories, but then they point us to what is the ending for us humans-to the place of freedom, hope and love that God always offers. While our lives end, God is eternal. God is always making all things new and keeps telling us to look ahead and see the plans God has for us. There is so much more to come!
God’s new plan today in the book of Isaiah reminds us of God’s agreement with God’s people in the past. Their religious heritage, called the festival of Passover, was freedom that God gave them. This was when God lead them out of slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, with Moses leading them. Their past years in slavery are remembered each year, as the story is passed from generation to generation. The story is shared to remember how God heard their cries, cared for them and set them free. As God speaks in this first lesson, they aren’t free. God’s plan will set them free again.
Using the familiar story of the journey through the Red Sea and across the desert wilderness, God tells the people that once again, God will make this miracle happen. They will be set free and will travel in safety across the desert, protected, because God has not forgotten them.
Can you not see, do you not perceive it, the prophet asks. Do not remember the past, look to the future, to the new thing I am doing. If God has provided in the past, don’t you think God will keep the promises made to us for the future? We can ask ourselves the same question. Do we trust that God keeps and cares for us today? Or have we abandoned the hope God has given us and try to live our lives apart from God?
Our gospel lesson takes us to the simple home of Jesus’ friends- Mary, Martha and Lazarus-and to the dinner party that Jesus attends with his disciples. Jesus is the guest of honor because he raised Lazarus from the dead just a few days earlier and his friends want to thank him. They’ve been friends for a long time and they believe he is the son of God, not because they saw him raise Lazarus from the dead, but because they’re friends-they know each other very, very well. And while they don’t like what Jesus has said will happen soon, as friends, they honor and support him.
This home in Bethany holds many memories of their times together; the smells of cooking are a result of the dinner they share at this moment. But the smells and memory of death are still with them; Lazarus was in the tomb four days before Jesus raised him.
This is no simple dinner party here; it’s a heartbreaking memory of the past and a hope against all hope for a future. As they come together, Mary uses an expensive jar of perfume to wash Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair. The memories within these walls are mixed with the perfume fragrance and it’s a sacred moment, when time stands still.
No words need to be spoken, because everyone understands what’s happening. This perfume is used to anoint bodies for burial, after the person had died. But in a moment of love, intimacy and extravagance, Mary pours it on Jesus now, as a seal upon the relationship they’ve shared. Even at his death, just days away, Mary will be faithful. She will continue the work that Jesus began.
All of the disciples have seen the miracles that Jesus can do, but they also know Jesus’ plans for the future. They know he’ll go to Jerusalem, where he will face beating, crucifixion and death. Now, Jesus is with them as they share this meal together. As all of these memories swirl in their minds, the smell of the perfume lifts their spirits. No words are necessary.
But you know how it is, in these special moments, sacred, holy and united with God, someone has to speak. Someone always has to say something or needs to bring attention to their own importance. Judas, the treasurer, breaks in to complain about the waste. Judas can only see as far as his own greed and this perfume would have put some money in his pocket. But Jesus stops him with the reminder that this anointing is for his burial. This anointing is Mary’s goodbye to her best friend. It’s a sign of her devotion and her discipleship. Mary will carry on the work that Jesus began. Judas will die as the cheater he has chosen to be.
It’s difficult to tell this story of Jesus, to stress how important the events of the coming weeks will be. If we are the disciples we claim to be, we are called to follow Jesus’ example-he came to show us what God is like. He came to remind us that we are beloved people of God, called into action for the sake of Christ.
While we are the hands of Jesus, our hands will never bear Jesus’ scars. While we can show the heart of God’s love, we will never know God’s heartbreak at loving a creation that does not love back. We have the privilege of a special, precious memory. That memory is that God’s words of love are written on our hearts, we are empowered through the Holy Spirit and we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. Amen.

Rev. Dawn Richie